Emotional reasoning: when emotions cloud thoughts

Emotional reasoning: when emotions cloud thoughts

Emotional reasoning: when emotions cloud thoughts

Written and verified by the psychologist GetPersonalGrowth.

Last update: 15 November 2021

Emotional reasoning is a cognitive process whereby we shape an idea or belief based on how we feel. It is probably the most common mode of self-sabotage, the one where we feel sad because only misfortune happens to us, the one where we are jealous because our partner, secretly and when we least expect it, intends to cheat on us.

Reasoning by how we feel, we've all done it more than we think. It is a trap, a trick that our brain plays on it, which at certain times has difficulty in interpreting and managing emotions correctly. The concrete facts will not matter, because any objective and rational element will be deliberately ignored or discarded in favor of the "truth" supported by feelings.

"If our thoughts get stuck due to distorted symbolic meanings, illogical reasoning and wrong interpretations, we actually become blind and deaf"

-A. Beck-

For example, it will not matter to know that work and home are two separate elements, because sometimes when we arrive home stressed, exhausted and angry and our partner makes an inappropriate comment, we end up pouring all our negative emotions on him. . Because in the end "they all have the same goal": to exasperate us, to make us unhappy.

We could undoubtedly cite many other examples, some even bordering on the most absurd irrationality like those who get on the scariest of rides and are suddenly overwhelmed with the full conviction that they are about to die. So, with the convinced and desperate idea of ​​running away from this risk, which for them is real and imminent, they decide to untie themselves from the safety devices, effectively putting their lives at risk.

Emotional reasoning takes us into the perfect storm, into a chaos of distorted thoughts from which we rarely escape unscathed ...

Emotional reasoning: a primordial mechanism

At this point we can bring back Paul MacLean's always interesting theory of the triune brain. We could talk about that second brain, the limbic brain, which was formed on the basis of the reptilian brain and which controls and shapes our emotional behavior. He is responsible for the most basic processes, such as classical conditioning or operant conditioning, and he is also the one that sometimes makes us act in an illogical or even irrational way.

However, it must be said that for neuroscience this model is not solid, as in reality our brain is a unique, interconnected and sophisticated structure in which no specific area suddenly takes exclusive control over us.

However, we cannot deny that most of the time we actually find ourselves allowing our emotions to reason for us, falling into this primordial trap in which the strength of a feeling creates a belief that has nothing to do with reality.

We end up putting aside our capacity for analysis, reflection, induction and also that principle of logic that is necessary to build solid relationships and to be able to effectively untangle ourselves in various situations. It is also necessary to specify that emotional reasoning is one of the cornerstones in the cognitive therapy founded by Aaron Beck in the 70s. His theories and his approaches are extremely useful to us to better understand this mechanism by no means healthy.

Let's see them below.

Aaron Beck: Our emotions and the reality around us are not the same

Sometimes, as we walk at dawn in a forest or on top of a mountain, we are suddenly enveloped in a tongue of smoke. This smoke is not caused by a fire, there is nothing burning. It's just a haze. The presence in our mind of this subtle balance between reason and emotion will undoubtedly allow us to draw much more useful conclusions and correct in our everyday life.

On the other hand, whoever lets himself be carried away by the impulse of emotions will end up being captured by that fear that obscures and deforms everything. We will see fires where there are only meadows wrapped in calm. This phenomenon gives shape to what Aaron Beck defined as a type of sabotage performed by the mind, a cognitive distortion in which we let ourselves be carried away only by the most unfavorable side of our negative emotions.

Most people don't pay much attention to how they feel, much less wonder where their reactions come from. Almost without realizing it, we allow our automatic thoughts to take full control over our life.

  • Another curious phenomenon that takes place with emotional reasoning is procrastination. If something bothers us or worries us, or if we think we will fail, instead of facing the situation, we postpone it. This continuous postponement of the decision-making process also occurs in this purely emotional and instinctive world that aims to avoid any risk at all costs, immersing us in our comfort zone.
  • Sometimes we have to add to procrastination too an excessive generalization starting from very specific anecdotes or cases. For example "if the person I like has rejected me, it is clear that love is not for me ...".
  • Finally, there is a very common characteristic especially among subjects accustomed to reasoning based on their emotions: judging the behavior or emotional states of others based on how they are feeling at that particular moment.

As we can see, we tend to create a real smoke starting from non-existent fires that heavily diminish the quality of our life, our personal relationships and our growth as people ...

How can we combat emotional reasoning?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, based on the approaches of Aaron Beck himself, is a good way to try to overcome this type of cognitive distortion. Below we propose some strategies to reflect on.

  • Identify your automatic thoughts. Remember that your thoughts directly affect how you feel, so you need to be able to identify and evaluate them.
  • When emotional reasoning takes over, feelings get confused with real facts. Emotional reasoning makes stress worse, depression increases, anxiety sharper. Consequently, every time we experience a negative emotion we must stop and reflect on it, analyze it, channel it, break it down ...
  • Whenever we make a judgment, however small it may be, we must analyze the emotions that lie behind it and the mechanism that led us to formulate this idea, this evaluation.
  • Let us ask ourselves if we are capable of thinking about the current situation in a different way. For example, if we are telling ourselves that we have been naïve to trust someone who has let us down, we should not come to the conclusion that "we cannot trust anyone". Instead, we must think that “we are not naive, because today we have learned a lesson and we will certainly not repeat the same mistake”.

In conclusion, the main problem with emotional reasoning is that once we allow our emotions to turn into certain truths, it is very difficult for us to sail anchor from these islands inhabited by torment. However, it is necessary to take control of our emotional universes.

"If we are what we think, then we allow these thoughts to make us free, happy and competent"


Beck, A. (1985), Cognitive therapy of depression. Bollati Boringhieri

Blanchette, I. (2013), Emotion and reasoning. Psychology Press

Damasio, A. (2010), Descartes' error. Emotion, reason and the human brain. Adelphi

add a comment of Emotional reasoning: when emotions cloud thoughts
Comment sent successfully! We will review it in the next few hours.